From blended learning to buddy systems – why mthree Alumni is more than just another source of junior talent

From blended learning to buddy systems – why mthree Alumni is more than just another source of junior talent

11/02/2021

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Imagine you’re looking at two recent grads. At a glance, they’re hard to tell apart. Each person has a great degree in a STEM subject, and you see their potential to close the skills gap your organization is facing.

 

But – understandably – you might expect both people to place high demands on your time and resources. Especially if your benchmark for hiring emerging talent is an internal grad scheme or university program.

 

How many years will it be before your leap of faith pays off? Is it really worth the pain? Are you better off hiring someone senior instead?

 

The thing is, not all emerging talent has to feel “junior”. By which we mean, inexperienced to the point of needing months of handholding.

 

You want a new addition to make an impact from the moment they join your team. With mthree Alumni, this is exactly what you get.

 

That’s because our training program teaches grads hands-on skills to translate theory into execution.

 

We tailor each exercise, assessment and case study to your enterprise environment and industry. After each module, our trainees complete challenges to put everything they've just learned into practice, culminating in a project that brings together every element of the 6-12 weeks. To check they’re ready to thrive in your workforce from day one, they’ll only graduate from the Academy if they achieve a pass.

 

So far, so functional! You’re probably wondering what that actually looks like on the ground and who makes it happen. So in this article, we’ll be hearing from three people at mthree about the role they play in turning emerging talent into one of your most valuable assets.

 

THE MTHREE CURRICULUM IS CLIENT-LED – BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

 

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Haythem Balti leads the curriculum team at mthree. As the bridge between the sales  team and the content team, he makes sure mthree’s curriculum and training content genuinely solve the issues a client is trying to solve.

The key? Letting the industry and clients guide the curriculum, from the sales process to the instructors to the training.

 

“When the sales team comes to me, my job is to get to know the client’s tech and understand exactly what they need. Training should be customised to the industry. So instead of us saying “here’s what we think your company should learn, now here’s a course”, it’s “tell us what you want to learn and we’ll make it happen”. We start with a skills gap analysis. What profiles do you have internally? What can your team do? What can’t you do? Then we come up with a training outline. All our exercises at the Academy put concepts in the context of real-world problems. We use insurance examples for insurance companies, banking examples for banks. Then we go back to the client for feedback.”

 

Once the curriculum is agreed, it’s over to the instructors. They’re required to tick rather a lot of boxes – and as Haythem explains, industry experience is just the start.

 

“We have software developers who bring a vast pool of skills from different companies. Technologies keep evolving so rapidly. Cyber security, data science, and all the other subfields of computer science. But you can’t just take a regular software developer and put them in a classroom. You need personal skills as well as software skills. Being a teacher is like being a psychologist… you have to motivate people, and one technique doesn’t always motivate everyone. Yes, we’re technologists, but we also love education.”

 

THE LEARNING PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE MTHREE ACADEMY

 

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Dennis Bonilla is the Dean of the mthree Academy. Having spent five years as Executive Dean for the College of Information Systems and Technology and the School of Business at the University of Phoenix, he champions tailoring the training not only to the client but also to the learner.

 

 

“Blended learning means the ability to meet the learner where their need is. For example, there was no virtual training [at the start of 2020] and we’ve quickly shifted to virtual mode to provide a rich learning experience. Live virtual – not just asynchronous virtual. We always have to be able to shift between face-to-face training and virtual training, mixing it up to meet the delivery realities at the time. Obviously we’re leaning towards hybrid virtual at the moment!”

 

And as Dennis goes on to explain, the style of learning isn’t the only thing that’s always evolving. The training content has to keep up the pace too, otherwise the mthree Alumni will find themselves learning skills no company wants any more.

 

“Tech training is like yogurt on a shelf. Information and technology shift so quickly in this industry. Much more quickly than a few years ago. When I was at Oracle and Microsoft, we had a release cycle of 2-3 years. Now it’s a continuous release cycle. Everything is immediate, and our training content has to reflect these changes. We can’t spend months and months creating learning materials because it’s not worth the investment. Too soon, they become absolute and irrelevant.”

 

Similarly, the Academy has to tie the training to the skills clients actually need, in the roles they have open. Although most clients do tend to have a lot in common, no two sets of requirements are exactly the same – ever.

 

“Our training has to be relevant not just to how tech is changing but how jobs are changing too. That’s why everything we do in our Academy has to keep up with job specs and have applicability to how you’d actually do something in the workplace. We react to the industry, we create the training content, we align it around what you’d actually use it for. All the practical assignments, all the testing, it’s tied to a real project.”

 

All in all, a trainee’s time at the Academy has to prepare them for work. But it’s not just the technical skills that leave an mthree Alumni capable of over-performing compared to other sources of emerging talent.

 

“We also focus on communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and interview techniques. In particular, supporting under-represented minorities, especially women. A lot of areas in the world have a bias against women in tech. How do you assert yourself as a woman without expressing arrogance or being seen as too aggressive? How do you challenge the status quo constructively? We’re working on these surround elements.”

 

Another element that sets an Alumni apart is the commitment to lifelong learning, as Dennis goes on to explain. He sees this function of mthree gaining importance post-pandemic as teams become ever more distributed through remote working.

 

“It can be hard to stay current. Employers don’t necessarily want to pay a lot for you to spend time developing yourself when they’re paying you to do the work. We’re looking at live touchpoints, where we check in and monitor and guide and give feedback, and prescriptive pathways too. Say you’re a data scientist – for the two years while you’re in your role [with the client], we’ll give you a recommended set of courses to do, and we’ll follow your progress throughout.”

 

And what goes into this lifelong learning package? Well, it depends. Some content is custom created in-house, and some is curated from other sources, such as Linkedin Learning. The goal is to create a personalised mix that suits the individual, rather than squashing square pegs into round holes.

 

“We want to present content in the manner a learner feels is most effective for them, and how they learn, and how they like to learn. Let’s say I prefer textbooks, but maybe you’re a visual learner. If we see that you like videos, we’ll serve you more video content. People have different obligations at home, with families and so on, so it’s more important than ever that their ongoing learning meets their specific needs.”

 

A TRAINING GROUND FOR THE WORKING WORLD, BEYOND THE JOB ITSELF

 

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Caitlin Maiewski, one of mthree’s Academy Experience Managers, looks after the students while they’re in training. Among other things, it’s this support that equips them with the confidence they need to break the “junior” stereotype.

 

“I’ve just done an orientation for a cohort who are about to start their training in production support, including Python, Linux, some SQL. It’s really interesting seeing the trainees come out of their shell [over the course of their training]. Initially they may say very little, then a few weeks later, as we’re doing recognition surveys, they’re being nominated by their peers for being the most helpful or the best role model. Seeing the way the trainees grow at the Academy is amazing.”

 

Like Dennis, Caitlin emphasizes the importance of cracking the online training environment for the sake of trainees and clients. The merging of mthree and the Software Guild under education behemoth Wiley at the start of 2020 couldn’t have come at a better time – just ahead of the pandemic, the Software Guild injected online-first capabilities into mthree’s training.

 

“Everyone just dove headfirst into moving the Academy from mainly in-person to mainly virtual. It was awesome, and everyone is still coming up with ideas for more improvements. We’re not just trucking ahead with the same thing, we’re constantly moving forward, adapting and evolving.”

 

Caitlin admits that getting people to connect online can be a challenge at first, but she’s noticed some beneficial side-effects for the mthree Alumni.

 

“Connecting is always easier in person. So it’s a little bit more work for us, getting the trainees talk to each other in a virtual classroom. While they can always talk through Slack, I’ve seen some trainees create their own networks outside of the classroom so they can continue to communicate with each other after the cohort. They figure out it’s OK to reach out to other people [in a work context]. It’s a good experience, learning not to be embarrassed to ask questions or get help with something.”

 

The Academy also has an open office hours channel where trainees and Alumni go to help each other out.

 

“I recently had an Alumni say he was going to keep an eye on the channel where students go for assistance to help whoever he could and keep his own knowledge and skills current. It’s a virtuous circle.”

 

More than anything else, and for the same reason, Caitlin is excited about mthree’s buddy system. It exists to pair people up in-flight to Alumni, or Alumni to Alumni.

 

“Coming into a program like this, grads really don’t know what to expect. And as the end of the course approaches, it can be a bit of a panic moment! For anyone in a role like mine that focuses on the quality of the immediate experience, it’s easy to forget that what happens after training will be a high concern. The idea is that the Alumni in the buddy program provide that much-needed ‘here’s what happens’ to trainees.”

 

As well as the trainees talking to each other, they have regular touchpoints with their Academy Experience Manager.

 

“Every week we check in with the instructors to see how each trainee is doing. That gives us an opportunity to say – hey, this person did great for two weeks, but then she started turning in assignments late, it’s not clicking, etc. So then we can add in extra one-on-one sessions with an instructor, or have a chat and ask if there’s anything else she needs to talk about.”

 

Caitlin goes on to explain that the Academy is a learning environment for soft skills, not just practical and technical skills. One of her responsibilities is to guide the trainees through pastoral issues – such as what to do if they’re going on vacation or having an emergency at home. Throughout the training, the importance of communication is emphasized. All of this makes for a stark contrast to grads who are hired directly, having to suss things out through trial and error, which can be frustrating on both sides.

 

“The trainees’ attitude to these obstacles really says a lot about how invested they are in what they’re doing with mthree. They’ll often find a manageable way to keep up with their learning, whatever happens.”

 

She describes the Academy team as always having an ear open for other topics the trainees would like to hear about.

 

“Kipp Graham, our Director of Career Services, has been instrumental in facilitating discussions to build on the things we already do at the Academy, like CV workshops, mock interviews, HR questions, or extra technical practice. We reach out to each trainee in our talent pool to see how their job search and interviews are going. We also give them self-paced courses to keep their muscle memory alive, which is especially valuable when it comes to coding.”

 

CONTINUITY IN SUPPORT: THE SECOND-MOST IMPORTANT DRIVER OF ONSITE PERFORMANCE

 

Now the proof is in the pudding. After the trainees graduate as Alumni from the mthree Academy, they’re ready for their placement – ready to put all their new hands-on nous to work for the client. Junior, but no longer “junior”.

 

So is that it, then? Trained, placed, goodbye?

 

Not by a long shot. The Academy experience, from industry training to soft skills, is only part of the picture.

 

Caitlin highlights ongoing support as a factor that contributes to the value the Alumni deliver for clients. Once onsite, they move under the care of mthree’s engagement and development team, who are always there to help. Making suggestions for self-paced learning targeted to a client project, answering work-life questions, the lot. This also improves the onboarding process, which can be a big obstacle in getting emerging talent up to speed.

 

WHAT ALL OF THIS MEANS FOR THE ALUMNI

 

It’s not just organizations that want to see results from the get-go.

 

As a post-grad student, Judith knew she wanted to work in finance, but the next steps were a mystery. She felt nervous about navigating her career – until she found mthree. Her training prepared her for an Alumni position as Secured Financing Analyst at Nomura in London, where she supports the trading desk by looking after repurchase agreements.

 

“I learnt a lot of technical skills and got an in-depth understanding of the financial services industry. It was intense! But very necessary, because I was a lot more confident about the role I was going to step into. [...] When you study a Master’s, it’s all quite theory-based. But now I’m putting my knowledge into practice every single day.”

 

Over in India, Himani’s training led her to become a Production Support Analyst at a global investment bank. For her, the speed of the feedback loop at the Academy is what made the difference.

 

“We studied SQL queries for a day and then straight away we were given the task to write one. We then had exposure to next batches, scripting and many DevOps tools like Ansible, Kubernetes, Jenkins, Docker and Amazon Web Services. Each group had around 4 trainees, so the teamwork aspect gave us a chance to interact with others.”

 

Caroline, an Alumni Software Developer at a multinational healthcare company in the US, agrees. One of her standout memories is when the mthree instructors showed her how to use Java in a workplace.

 

“I had only written small projects before starting the training but joining mthree meant I was able to do a large project from start to finish. And now that’s exactly what we do in my job, so the training has been really useful. College gave me a general overview of computer science, whereas the training taught me how to code in the real-world.”

 

Remember those two grads, side by side? One’s had intensive training with mthree, one hasn’t. Can you spot the difference?

 

Interested in our Alumni solution, or want to find out more about how we do business at mthree? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at info@mthree.com.